“I believe that every human being has an innate desire for happiness and does not want to suffer. I also believe that the very purpose of life is to experience this happiness… Sometime we look at the negative side of things and then feel hopeless. This, I think, is a wrong view… However, through training our minds, with constant effort, we can change our mental perception or mental attitudes. This can make a real difference in our lives. If we have a positive mental attitude, then even when surrounded by hostility, we shall not lack inner peace.” – The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is right. We all want happiness. Even the surliest curmudgeon wants happiness. Even the vilest psychopath wants happiness. Every child wants happiness. Every rich person, every poor person wants happiness. I want it, you want it, people of every race, nationality and religion want it.
Everyone wants happiness. We all want happiness, yet very few know how to achieve it in any lasting, reliable way, and so we keep falling back into unhappiness. As we fall into unhappiness, we become more and more desperate about regaining happiness and we come up with some very delusional, sometimes even destructive, tactics for achieving what we think will bring us happiness. This observation is the very basis for Buddhism, and as Buddhism notes, the frustration of unfulfilled grasping after happiness is what brings about what Buddhists refer to as “suffering.” It is a great truth that there are many very “wrong views” in this world about how happiness is to be achieved, and these wrong views inevitably lead to suffering.
Mostly we believe we will have happiness by making more of “me,” and there are about as many different views of how to go about making more of “me” as there are people on this planet. It is in the definition of “me” that we get fouled up, for the curmudgeon wants more things to be cranky about, the psychopath wants more victims, the rich person wants more riches, as does the poor person. There are infinite variations of the way to experience “me” with whatever turns “me” on, and infinite, usually ultimately ineffective, ways to pursue it.
In this culture, great emphasis is placed on happiness through material/social success, possessions, and relationships, but it is pretty usually true that there is never enough success or possessions, and it is also usually true that relationships often bring hurt and disappointment as well as satisfaction and happiness, and so happiness is a phantom that keeps slipping away.
The Dalai Lama, when once asked to describe his religion, replied, “My religion is kindness,” and for all its seeming simplicity, this is a deeply multi-layered and profound answer. Upon reflection, we all have a sense that the purpose, the reason for the world’s religions, is to bring about more kindness, compassion and love, less violence and hatred in the world, yet religions seem to have failed in this regard. Driven by strong negative emotions and motivations in the pursuit of happiness, humanity continues to manifest horrifying levels of violence, greed, selfishness and indifference.
If we, however, look at religion as the deepest truth of our existence, and as our search for what will fulfill this truth, the Dalai Lama’s response, while simple, is infinitely wise and true. If happiness is our core desire and motivation, the deepest truth ought to be about how we fulfill this need, and the Dalai Lama is telling us that if you want to be happy, you must be kind, and if humanity wants to be happy, it must learn to be kinder. We must deepen our understanding and capacities for compassion, tolerance, generosity, appreciation and love, in other words, for kindness.
What an astonishing and simple truth! To be happy, be kind. From our usual self-centeredness, we know we are happy when others are kind to us, but how astonishing that most people haven’t noticed that an even greater happiness is experienced when we are kind to others, and when we have a kind attitude toward all that happens in the world – when we are tolerant, forgiving and appreciative toward all that happens, great and small. That we fail to make this connection is a sign of how deep the conditioning is that happiness comes from getting rather than giving.
This is where the “training our minds” comes in. This may seem like an unusual connection, to look to the training of the mind to find happiness, but not so. First, of course, it must be realized that happiness is a state of mind. While we act as if happy is something we get, it is, in fact, something we are or are not. It is a state of mind that is only relatively dependent on our conditions – “If we have a positive mental attitude, then even when surrounded by hostility, we shall not lack inner peace.”
Since there is a limit to how much we can get, then it is true that the happiness that comes from getting is really quite limited, and since all things that can be acquired can also be lost, getting is a poor strategy to happiness. There is no limit, however, to how much kindness we can give or how much kindness we can bring into our view of the world, and therefore our potential for happiness derived from a mind that has trained itself to be kind and appreciative is unlimited.
“Meditation is the process whereby we gain control over the mind and guide it in a more virtuous direction. Meditation may be thought of as a technique by which we diminish the force of old thought habits and develop new ones” – Dalai Lama
In Tibetan Buddhism, the word “meditation” means to train the mind, and “virtuous” describes what brings about happiness and lessens suffering. So what the Dalai Lama is saying is that when we train our minds to be free of the old habits of thought and emotion that lead to unhappiness, and open it through insightful meditation to deeper understanding of the connection between happiness with kindness, compassion, appreciativeness, generosity, tolerance and patience, we will find what we all have been searching for in our misguided self-centered aggressive ways but keeps eluding us. Contrary to our social conditioning, it turns out that more of “me” leads to less happiness, while less of “me” leads to greater happiness, and through meditation, this paradox becomes completely clear. We must become “nobody” to be completely happy. This is the great secret and power of Buddhism.
As the Dalai Lama suggests, make a religion out of selfless kindness and you will find happiness. You must, of course, realize this means also not allowing others to be unkind to you, or receiving and personalizing their unkindness. We also have to go beyond just the idea of kindness to see and experience through meditation how the mind is trapped in unvirtuous directions and how we can shape and train it in “a more virtuous direction,” a kinder and happier direction. It is both a simple and a sophisticated concept, and a great challenge, but it can be done, and meditation is the means, “through training our minds, with constant effort.”